If you’re a current high school student, then you’re caught in a big transition between the old SAT and the new SAT. You may have thought you were all set with a high SAT score, but now you’re wondering, “Should I take the new SAT?”
Not to worry, help is here! You can easily resolve this concern by asking yourself two key questions. First, find out whether your colleges require the new SAT. If they don’t, feel free to scroll down to the next important question: is your score on the old SAT really high enough to achieve your goals?
Read on to consider one or both of these questions, and determine once and for all whether or not you need to take the redesigned SAT.
Question 1: Do You Need the New SAT for Colleges?
Before you start evaluating your SAT scores, you should make sure that your scores will fulfill application requirements. Do your prospective colleges accept old SAT scores, or do they only want new SAT scores? If you can’t find this information online, call up the admissions offices to clarify their stance. Interested parties need to know.
So far, it looks like just about every college will still accept old SAT scores from students in the Class of 2017. As for students in the Class of 2018, several colleges haven’t declared an official policy yet. The trend seems to be that most colleges will still accept the old SAT, but not all of them have confirmed this yet.
There’s just one college so far that will only accept the new SAT from Class of 2018 applicants, Northwestern. On its admissions site, Northwestern states, “Beginning with those seeking to enroll as first-year students in fall 2018, we will only accept the new SAT.” If you're a junior or younger and aiming to be a future Wildcat, then you know what you need to do.
In addition to figuring out which test your colleges require, you should also take note of your colleges’ super-scoring policies. Most colleges won’t “cross super-score” between the old SAT and new SAT. Since they’re two different tests with two different scoring systems, most colleges won’t take your highest sections scores on either test to combine them into the highest possible total score. If you’re relying on superscoring as part of your testing strategy, then this fact may be another deciding factor in whether or not you should take the new SAT.
Once you answer this question for all the schools on your college list, you’ll be one step closer to answering the question of whether you should take the new SAT. Let’s consider both scenarios, the first being that your colleges take the old SAT and the second being that they do not.
I'm only applying to super chill colleges where I can play ultimate frisbee and take glass-blowing classes. They're totally cool with my old SAT scores.
Answer 1: My Colleges Take the Old SAT
If your colleges take the old SAT, then you might not have to take the new SAT! You've already met the SAT score requirement of your college applications. Rather than prepping for the new SAT, your energies will likely be more productive in other areas, like your academics, extracurricular activities, and producing the rest of your application.
Before completing writing off the new SAT, though, you should scroll down to question #2 and make sure that your old SAT score really is high enough to make you a competitive applicant.
My fashion forward colleges say out with the old and in with the new. They think the old SAT is so last season.
Answer 2: My Colleges Only Take the New SAT
If you’re a younger student graduating after 2018, then it’s possible that your prospective colleges will only take the new SAT. As you saw above, you’ll also have to take it if Northwestern’s on your college list.
You may have been hoping that you were all finished with the SAT, but unfortunately, you got caught in the switch between the old and new SAT. The good news is that you’ve already done a lot of preparation and know that you can achieve a strong score if you put your mind to it.
You’ll need to readjust your test prep to the redesigned test, or you could even consider switching over to the ACT instead. We’ll discuss how to choose between the SAT and ACT in more detail below, but first, let’s look at the second important question, which has to do with evaluating your SAT scores.
Is your glass really as full as you thought, you were you using an absurdly tiny measuring tape?
Question 2: Is Your Score Really High Enough?
Maybe your colleges take your old SAT scores, but that doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily all finished with this part of your application. Before nixing the idea of taking the new SAT, you should make sure your score really is high enough to accomplish your goals. So what criteria can you use to make this determination?
First, you can consider your personal goals. Were you able to meet your target scores? Do you feel that your scores are an accurate reflection of your academic abilities? If you feel satisfied with your scores, then they may be high enough to meet your personal goals.
Second, and more importantly, you should consider your prospective colleges’ expectations. While colleges typically don’t advertise an SAT minimum, they do publicize the average scores of accepted students. You might be able to find this information on your colleges’ admissions website. You can also easily find it using PrepScholar’s database, which gives you the average SAT scores, ranging from the 25th to the 75th percentile, of each college’s accepted students.
For instance, a score of 2100 on the SAT is a great score and may very well exceed your personal goals. However, if you’re looking to apply to a highly selective school like Duke, MIT, Stanford, or any school in the Ivy League, then a 2100 isn’t actually all that competitive.
You might go through your college list and write down the range of average SAT scores for accepted students. For example, this chart shows the range of average SAT scores for six colleges:
|College||25th Percentile||75th Percentile|
|University of Wisconsin||1760||2090|
To be a competitive candidate, you should have an SAT score in the 75th percentile of average scores or higher. For instance, you’d want to possess an SAT score of 2090 or above if you’re applying to the University of Wisconsin. If your scores fall in the lower part of the range or even below the average SAT score, then you might consider taking it again.
It may be frustrating to have to study for a completely redesigned test, but you shouldn’t let this challenge deter you. In the end, gaining higher scores to send to your colleges would be well worth it. To discover the average SAT scores for each college on your list, you can use PrepScholar’s database of schools. Read on to learn more about this process, step by step.
Step 1: go to your college's admissions page or PrepScholar's database. Step 2: throw your hands up and wail, "What more do you want from me?!"
How to Research Your Colleges’ SAT Score Expectations
Most colleges don’t explicitly state their SAT score expectations, but they still have a certain hidden requirement. Admissions officers sometimes won’t look at the rest of a student’s application unless he/she hits a certain score level.
PrepScholar has collected this data on colleges across the country to help you with your college research. Just search for “[name of college] + PrepScholar” to find the average SAT scores of accepted students, ranging from the 25th to 75th percentile of accepted scores. For instance, the following offers a glimpse of PrepScholar’s data on NYU:
As you can see, a score of 2190 on the old SAT would make you a competitive candidate for NYU. You can also enter your SAT scores and GPA on PrepScholar’s admissions calculator to estimate your chances of getting in.
An SAT score of 2190 paired with a GPA of 3.7 gives you over a 50% chance of getting into NYU, meaning you could apply to NYU as one of your “on target” schools.
Check out all your prospective schools on PrepScholar’s database to figure out whether your old SAT scores really are high enough to get you into college. What you do next depends on your answer to this original question of, “Is my score really high enough?”
Like I said, my old SAT scores are high enough! I'm going shopping for winter clothes now so I can survive on a New England college campus.
Answer 1: Yes, My Scores are High Enough
If your scores meet your personal goals and fall near the 75th percentile of average scores, then you don’t have to take the new SAT! This is assuming, of course, that you already answered question 1 and your colleges take scores from the old SAT.
Since you’re all done with this part of your application, you can focus on the other parts. Make sure you’ve requested recommendations and given your teachers and counselor a detailed brag sheet. Brainstorm topics for your personal essay and work through several revisions. Maintain your GPA and take an active role in your extracurricular activities. Continue to strive for success in school for your personal growth and to send off the strongest application you can!
On the flip side, let’s say you researched your colleges’ average SAT scores and found that your old SAT scores didn’t quite match up. Then what?
If you find your scores need to be higher, you have every right to look as disgruntled as this deer.
Answer 2: No, My Scores Should Be Higher
So you’ve done your research and found that your old SAT scores aren’t up to scratch. They fall closer to the 25th percentile end of the range or lower. If you’re serious about getting into a school and have time to retake the SAT, then you should probably take it again.
Luckily, all of the prep you’ve already done will help you on the new SAT. At the same time, much of the test has changed, so the new SAT requires its own unique preparation. While your studying will help to some extent, you also don’t have to stick with the SAT out of loyalty. You could choose to take the ACT instead.
If you do need to retake an admissions test because your colleges either don’t accept or expect higher SAT scores, which one should you choose, the SAT or the ACT?
Should You Take the New SAT or the ACT?
Let’s say you asked yourself the two key questions described above and concluded that your old SAT scores won’t do. You need to take another exam, but you have the option of the new SAT or the ACT. How can you determine which test is better for you?
First, you should take the time to learn about both tests. You’ll notice that the redesigned SAT is actually very similar in structure and question type to the ACT. After learning about both tests, you could sit down and take a timed practice test in each. Compare your performance to see which test would ultimately grant you the higher score for your college applications.
To give you a preliminary comparison, let’s briefly review the structure and content of the SAT and ACT. After learning about their key features, read on to find practice tests and some tips for prepping for both tests.
Don't worry about buying a bunch of heavy books to learn about the SAT and ACT. We have tons of comprehensive articles to teach you all about both tests.
Step 1: Learn About the SAT and ACT
Below are some key features of the SAT and ACT. You can also check out our various guides for a full breakdown of both tests, as well as detailed charts that compare them. As you read about the new SAT and ACT, consider which features seem like pros for you as a student and which ones feel like cons.
Key Features of the SAT
Since you already took the old SAT, you’ll immediately notice that the new SAT looks very different. Instead of ten shorter sections that are mostly random in order, the new SAT has just four longer sections in a predictable order. You’ll always get Reading first, following by Writing and Language, Math No Calculator, and Math with Calculator.
The SAT essay is now optional; if you choose to take it, you’ll get it as a fifth section. You’ll want to check with your prospective colleges to see whether they expect you to take the essay section, which will no longer factor into your total scores.
Much of the content coincides with the old test. You’ll still need to demonstrate your reading comprehension skills, a strong grasp of grammar and usage, and the ability to solve algebra and geometry problems. There are a few key differences from the old SAT, though.
First, the Reading section no longer has sentence completions. You won’t need to fill in the blanks of questions with obscure vocabulary words. Instead, vocabulary questions will be passage-based and ask about a more common word that may shift meaning depending on context.
You’ll also get some evidence-based questions in the Reading section that ask about your reason behind your answers. For instance, if you identified the main point of a paragraph, then a follow-up question may ask what specific lines prompted your previous response.
In the Writing and Language section, you’ll answer questions on grammar, structure, word choice, and organization of ideas that are based on passages. The questions in both Reading and Writing are all passage-based, so context clues now play a much bigger role on the SAT. Ultimately, your performance on Reading and Writing will be combined into one Evidence-based Reading and Writing score.
The other half of your score will be SAT Math, which, as you read above, is divided into a calculator prohibited and a calculator permitted section for the first time. Most of the questions will involve algebra, but you’ll also get a few geometry and, also for the first time, trigonometry questions.
Finally, the SAT math will feature more word problems with “real world scenarios,” at least, according to College Board. Some of these so-called real world scenarios may ask about gas mileage, converting currency from one country to another, or profits from online music. Some of these word problems may include graphics; in fact, you’ll now find graphics, like tables and charts, that are paired with data interpretation questions on all four sections of the SAT.
If you have to retake an admissions test, consider whether these changes appeal to you and your academic strengths. Below are a few of the key features of the ACT so you can compare the two tests.
One big difference between the two admissions tests is the presence of a Science section on the ACT. It primarily asks about robots. Only one of those statements is true (I'm helping you sharpen your critical reading skills!).
Key Features of the ACT
The new SAT actually looks very similar to the ACT. The ACT has always had a more predictable and straightforward format. Its four sections are English, Math, Reading, and Science, in that order, followed by an optional essay section.
While the SAT features a long Reading section and a short Writing section, the ACT is the reverse; its English section (equivalent to SAT Writing and Language) is longer than its Reading section. Similar to the SAT, the ACT also asks questions that are passage-based and avoids particularly obscure vocab words.
ACT Math is also comparable to SAT Math, but it tests more advanced concepts. Like the SAT, it has a large emphasis on algebra. Unlike the SAT, the ACT Math section asks more geometry and trigonometry questions. On the ACT, you can use a calculator throughout the math section.
The biggest departure from the SAT can be found in the ACT Science section. This 35-minute section tests your reasoning and problem-solving skills and asks you to interpret, analyze, and evaluate data. It doesn’t necessarily require you to have a lot of scientific knowledge. Instead, it has to do with evaluating experimental design and understanding graphics. Students who are well-versed in the scientific method may appreciate the inclusion of a science section on the SAT.
As you read through these features, you may have developed an inkling of which test you’d prefer. Let’s summarize the reasons why one test might be better than the other.
Which Test Features Are Better for You?
Now that you’re familiar with some of the main differences between the tests, you should figure out which one seems better suited to your academic strengths. One big difference is the Science section on the ACT. You may know automatically whether this section, mainly based on data interpretation and evaluation, plays to your strengths or is one you’d rather avoid. Keep in mind, of course, that the SAT now also features graphics throughout all its sections, but they’re not all related to science.
If you’re a more advanced math student, then you might be drawn to the ACT. It features more geometry than the SAT and doesn’t have as many complex word problems. If you’re stronger in algebra, then the SAT may be for you.
As mentioned above, the ACT has a longer English section than a Reading section. The SAT has the reverse. Students who are stronger in reading comprehension, specifically answering questions about main points, details, and vocabulary in context, may prefer the SAT. Students who prefer to edit paragraphs for word choice, grammar, and organization of ideas may be drawn to the ACT.
If you’re not sure where your academic strengths or simply want to see how the tests include the above-described content, you could take a practice test in each.
Taking practice tests may feel tedious, but if you arrange everything in an Instagram-worthy way, then you can at least make it look cool. #nofilter
Step 2: Take an SAT and ACT Practice Test
After you’ve completed step one and learned all about the SAT and ACT, you might take a practice test in each. In the end, choosing between the two is simple. You should choose the one on which you can gain a higher score. Taking and scoring a practice test will help you figure out which test is better for you.
There are lots of old ACT practice tests available, and College Board has offered four free official SAT practice tests. Time yourself in a quiet environment and when you’re finished, take the time to score both tests. While the two use a different scoring scale, you could compare the scores using concordance tables released by College Board and ACT, Inc.
Since the redesigned SAT is so new, these comparisons are still somewhat rough. However, they should work to give you an idea of how your scores stack up. Besides, if you’re scoring very closely on the SAT and ACT, then you can just choose based on your personal preference for one test over the over.
You might feel like sticking with the SAT since you already got a high score on the old SAT. However, as you read above, the redesigned test features some significant differences in both structure and content. It’s totally up to you whether you want to stick with the SAT or switch over to the ACT to gain new scores.
Once you make up your mind, how should you prep for each test?
How to Prepare for the New SAT
Since you gained a high score on the old SAT, you’ve probably already done a good deal of preparation for the test. To get ready to retake it, you should start by familiarizing yourself in-depth with all the changes. Learn about what’s changed on Reading, Writing, Math, and the essay, as well as what’s stayed the same. For instance, the reading comprehension strategies and grammar rules you studied for the old test should still help you on the new one.
Some of the major changes, though, include a “no calculator” math section, an entirely passage-based Writing section, and a new emphasis on data interpretation. Make sure your materials accurately reflect the changes and will help you get ready for new question types.
You can find official practice questions at College Board, as well as a useful and free online program at Khan Academy. While you’ve already done some prep, you should still start at least three months before your test date to give yourself sufficient time to adjust to the new test and improve your scores.
Brief pause for some words of encouragement. You can do it, you superhero! OK, now back to reading.
How to Prepare for the ACT
As with the new SAT, some of the prep you did for the old SAT will also help you on the ACT. The two tests ask some similar questions, especially when it comes to reading comprehension, grammar, algebra, and geometry.
However, you may need to brush up on more advanced math skills, as well as renew your focus on editing structure and organization of ideas in passages. You’ll also have to study entirely new material for the Science section, focusing on data interpretation and the ACT’s unique experimental design questions.
As with the new SAT, you should start by familiarizing yourself with each section of the ACT, the English, Math, Reading, Science, and, if applicable, Writing. Gather official practice tests and other high-quality practice materials. You might begin with a diagnostic test and use your results to figure out how long you need to study to achieve your target score improvement.
As you read above, you can research your colleges’ expectations and aim for the 75th percentile or higher in the range of average ACT scores of accepted students. Let your college goals guide your prep as you work toward your target scores.
Hopefully, at this point, you have a clear sense of whether or not your old SAT scores are sufficient to apply to college. Let’s review the main points to keep in mind as you work your way through the college process.
To Sum Up…
If you’re graduating in 2018 or earlier, then most colleges should take your old SAT scores. Unless you decide you need higher scores, then you can forget about these tests and devote your time and energy to other pursuits.
On the other hand, if you’re a younger student or discover that your old SAT scores aren’t quite high enough, then you should spend some time prepping for and retaking an admissions test. You could take the new SAT, or you could switch things up and try the ACT. Ultimately, you should choose whichever test will help you get higher scores for your college applications.
Once you decide between the two tests, focus on preparing with high-quality practice materials and a thoughtful, customized study plan. In the end, all of your hard work will pay off when you get that acceptance letter to your dream school.
Once you’ve learned about each section of the new SAT, it’s time to think about study strategy. Check out our ultimate study guides, full of tips to help you master skills, question types, and time, for SAT Math, SAT Reading, and SAT Writing and Language.
Are you taking the Essay section on the SAT? This comprehensive guide will guide you through the process of writing a new SAT essay, step by step.
Are you unclear on how long you need to study for the SAT, especially since you already took the old version? Check out this 6-step guide for figuring out exactly how long you need to study for the SAT.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.